The City of San Antonio, the seventh largest city in the country, and its surrounding area has a large population of under-educated, under-skilled adults who lack the resources and support system necessary to obtain a marketable skill. Per the U. S. Census Bureau, one-quarter of San Antonio residents age 25 and over do not have a high school diploma, and an additional 24.2 percent has only a high school diploma or GED. This is above the national average of 43% of adults in the county who have no education beyond high school. At the same time, the Monthly Labor Review reported in November 2006 that 24 of the 30 fastest growing occupations require post secondary credentials. This gap in educational skills is a huge barrier for many individuals, forcing them to remain at the bottom of the labor chain and negating any chance at career advancement. Project QUEST seeks to help bridge this gap by providing participants with a comprehensive array of educational and occupational training services, the type needed to compete for quality, long-term employment in today's workforce.
Project QUEST services include outreach and recruitment, comprehensive applicant assessment, educational enhancement programs, occupational skills training, job search and placement, and case management services. Outreach and recruitment occurs at various community centers throughout San Antonio and informs residents about the advantages of comprehensive skills training. Community partners such as Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS), Metro Alliance, and other social service agencies help Project QUEST staff organize recruitment fairs and career fairs to reach individuals and families in need of training opportunities.
The enrollment process begins with an orientation and comprehensive skill assessment to help applicants establish a career path and determine their academic competencies for training. Project QUEST staff conduct program orientations at various locations throughout San Antonio. Orientation is a brief presentation of the history, objectives and accomplishments of Project QUEST, and it informs applicants about their responsibilities as a participant. Applicants are also required to complete two exams: the TABE (Test of Adult Basic Education), which determines their basic academic aptitude, and the SAGE (System for Assessment and Group Evaluation), which establishes an employment interest inventory. Project QUEST staff utilizes both the TABE and SAGE to determine an applicant’s training competency as well as a plan for enrollment.
As a workforce development program, Project QUEST is unique because it first defines the skills required to succeed in targeted, high-demand occupations, then recruits, trains and develops individuals so that they are qualified and ready for immediate employment. Labor market research and information obtained from employers such as wage rates, availability of benefits and career mobility potential help determine the training programs offered. This approach helps improve participant success rates both during training and at job placement. In addition, by conducting exploratory interviews with industry leaders and professional organizations Project QUEST is able to project employment opportunities and career stability.
Most participants receive their academic instruction and occupational training services from colleges within the Alamo Colleges, ensuring quality educational services and establishing a sound framework upon which participants can advance their education or training after leaving Project QUEST. Currently, Project QUEST offers training in industries such as Healthcare, Information Technology and Business Services and Installation, Maintenance and Repair. Specialized training is available upon demand from employers or the availability of special funding. Most training is in nursing and the allied health fields.
All Project QUEST participants receive intense training on workplace soft skills and job readiness. Participants are required to attend weekly VIP (Vision, Initiative, and Perseverance) meetings to discuss issues related to training. They receive information on topics such as study habits, test-taking techniques, conflict resolution, critical thinking, and job interview preparation. VIP sessions also help in the formation of participant support groups, study groups, mentoring arrangements between experienced and recently enrolled participants, and networking opportunities for employment. In addition, Project QUEST employer partners frequently speak at VIP sessions to inform participants about issues relevant to securing and maintaining employment.
Once they complete their training program, all Project QUEST participants are offered job search and placement services. Project QUEST staff members provide assistance with resume writing, interviewing techniques and job search activities. In many cases, participants receive direct job leads, including contact information, to allow them to quickly transition from a full-time training program to full-time employment. In addition, program services such as transportation assistance, childcare, counseling and referral assistance are available for a period of up to 90 days following job placement to ensure Project QUEST participants remain employed and maximize earnings. Project QUEST staff members also contact participants for a period of up to 18 months following job placement to collect employment information.
All Project QUEST participants receive case management services throughout their enrollment period. Case management includes guidance, counseling, support services, and other relevant training needs. Guidance and counseling are vital components of the case management plan and help to strengthen communication channels between case manager and participant. Project QUEST case managers maintain weekly contact with participants to ensure that they are progressing in their respective training programs. Many participants require access to a wide range of support services including transportation assistance, childcare assistance, and utility assistance. Others also require emergency aid for housing and/or food. Project QUEST utilizes a comprehensive network of community service organizations to ensure participants receive the assistance they need. By offering participants individual attention to address personal issues, case management services give each Project QUEST participant the best opportunity to successfully complete their training program and move on to economic self-sufficiency.